When former Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith pulled off the awesome draft day trade that brought H-Town its first great quarterback since Warren Moon, no one ever expected us to land where we are now. For those who have been living under a rock, or sadly stuck in a COVID state of suspended animation, Houston’s franchise quarterback has requested a trade, scrubbed all mention of the Texans from his social media, and allegedly refuses to return calls from Cal McNair, new general manager Nick Caserio, and new head coach David Culley. Watson allegedly is done with the franchise and wants no part of being a Houston Texan anymore.
In some circles, this raises the question “Why did you just sign a long term deal with the team just a few short months ago?” Last September, less than six months ago, Watson inked a contract extension with the Texans for four years and about $160 million.
More Glory! HOUSTON!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/u2D2o1ttIQ— Deshaun Watson (@deshaunwatson) September 5, 2020
This was after the potential inciting incidents of former Houston head coach/general manger Bill O’Brien shipping Jadeveon Clowney out and paying him to leave the team. It was also after the worst trade in Texas football history that sent Watson’s friend and former Clemson Tigers star, DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals for (insert not-enough-in-return joke here).
This was also after Watson balled out in 2020 like a player would in a contract year. Sad as it is, the NFL history books are full of players who put in 100% effort in the season leading up to a free agent contract and then take their foot off the gas once they get paid. While we won’t ever, ever, impinge Watson’s integrity by insinuating he would do something like that— because the guys that do need to look in the mirror and do an ethics check—this is still a head-scratcher. For the sake of conversation, and since we’re officially in the doldrums of NFL news, post-Super Bowl, let’s pretend we’re a special player like Deshaun Watson.
The Texans organization hasn’t exactly been a shining example of integrity themselves over the past decade. From former owner/founder Bob McNair’s horrendously stupid “inmates running the prison” comment, to the far-too-public spat with former All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown, to the litany of former players who have nothing good to say about their time in Houston, it’s a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, on a train, crashing into another dumpster that’s on fire.
I’ve interviewed Deshaun Watson before. I looked him in the eye, had a conversation with him, and tossed him curveball statements and questions to see how he would react. There’s one thing I’m certain: Watson is a very smart man. Knowing all we do about the Houston Texans (and we’re not even touching on the Charlatan of Football Operations, Jack Easterby), it might make sense for Watson to have orchestrated a lot of what’s happening right now. Michael Irvin once observed:
The worst thing I think you can do is come in cloaked under Godliness and do ungodly things to people
How’s this for a theory: Watson goes out and does the work. He tries, in fact, to outhustle J.J. Watt, a player everyone knows has one of the strongest work ethics since Jerry Rice. Watson puts his football smarts, incredible skills, and knack for magic on display for all to see. The future is never certain, so Watson has his agent pressure the “braintrust” of O’Brien and Easterby into paying him, big-time, in the wake of several other “big money for magic beans” deals.
Now that his financial future is guaranteed no matter what, Watson turns the 2020 season into a highlight reel audition. Few players aside from Watt and former great Andre Johnson grabbed the national spotlight for little ol’ Houston, so Watson needed to make himself a household name in football circles. And he did it.
With the attention of the NFL on him, with all the money, and, presumably, with all the power, Watson and his agent decide it’s time to pull the trigger and force a trade to a better franchise. Just like players who perform in contract years, Watson did just that. But instead of working for more money, maybe Watson is working for a better opportunity. Unlike the players who take their foot off the gas, Watson most likely has no thoughts of slowing down until he’s won multiple Super Bowls and Father Time has caught up to him. Unfortunately, as another star player who did something like this, Carson Palmer, pointed out, Watson might find himself out of the fire and into the frying pan.
For Deshaun, it’s a little bit double-edged sword: if you want to go somewhere, they might have to give up three, four, who knows how many first-round draft picks and that inevitably is going to reflect on his career for the next three or four years if he doesn’t have first-round picks on his new team he’s going to. So, it is a bit of a double-edged sword from Deshaun’s standpoint. You want somebody to be willing to give up enough to get you out of there, but you also don’t want them to mortgage the entire organization and then be put back in the same exact scenario in his new team that he was in Houston where you just don’t have very much talent around you and you got to carry the load on your shoulders.
And that’s not taking into account how his new franchise is run either. As many point out, Watson was smart enough to get a no-trade clause in his new contract. That doesn’t mean DW4 can dictate where he gets traded, but he can veto going somewhere he doesn’t want to go. Like taking any new job, you never know what you’re getting into until you’re in it. Some rumors have Watson wanting to go to the Jets due to Robert Saleh getting the head coaching gig there recently, but we’re talking about the Jets, the place where NFL coaches go to flame out. Pete Carroll, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Lou Holtz, and Rex Ryan all flamed out there, most likely due in some part to ownership. Saleh has very little chance of doing any better than the men who came before him.
Watson could perhaps find himself in Denver, where John Elway’s ego is on full display. Or the Dallas Cowboys (see Jerry Jones), if they decide they don’t want to commit to Dak Prescott and/or that Watson is too big of an upgrade to miss out on. Worse, he could find himself suiting up for a franchise that is just as misguided as the Texans (it IS possible, although not likely at the moment). While it’s clear Watson has friends all the league and players talk about what teams are great organizations and which ones aren’t, at the end of the day, great players play for great organizations and still go nowhere all the time. There’s no guarantee the grass is greener anywhere else. Watson might end up with a worse owner and the same deficit of surrounding talent.
Yet Watson seems determined to find out for himself. That’s his prerogative. Sure, this is all speculation, simply because the number of people who really know what’s going on are few in number and not talking. Without an inciting event, which is most likely not the whole “Cal McNair hired Nick Caserio without Watson’s permission” story floating around the internet, it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening as someone on the outside.
Without knowing what’s really going on, we can speculate just as easily that it’s possible Watson and his agent orchestrated all of this and are now running the play they devised back when Watson was a “2” right after the Hopkins trade.
Also worth noting: One source said this week that, after Houston traded Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last off-season, Deshaun Watson’s anger level was “a 2….This time, it’s a 10.” https://t.co/CsqZYbe3OK— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 10, 2021
I was on 2 then I took it to 10— Deshaun Watson (@deshaunwatson) January 15, 2021
Admittedly, through the old “Keep It Simple, Stupid” lens, Watson’s desire to leave Houston is most likely due to the influence of Jack Easterby. But maybe, just maybe, there’s more to it than that.
Unfortunately, we’ll likely never know the real story. All we can do is enjoy the memories of having one of the greatest quarterbacks of the early 21st century playing in Houston and hope that there’s a way out of this mess.